Saturday, 30 May 2015

Eponym 5 - 'guillotine'

‘Guillotine’ – a machine that caused nearly 40,000 heads to roll, invented by a military surgeon Antione Louis (the machine was originally called the ‘louisette’) and later changed to be named after Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin who was ironically opposed to capital punishment but made famous by the French Revolution. 

Dr Joseph-Ignace was appointed as one of the ten Paris Deputies of the Asemblee Constantiante. During a capital punishment debate, he proposed that ‘the criminal should be decapitated and solely by means of a simple mechanism, a machine that beheads painlessly’. He wanted people who would suffer the guillotine to be killed in the most humane way possible. The louisette prototype was invented, later named the ‘guillotine’ after Dr Joseph-Ignace.

Later, he retired from politics and returned to medicine, becoming a founder of the Academy of Medicine in Paris. After being named after a contraption that killed people, Dr Joseph-Ignace became one of the most vocal supporters of Edward Jenner’s theory of vaccination which has saved millions of lives. He died in 1814 of natural causes and his family were so embarrassed to have the guillotine named after him that they asked the French government to change its name. They weren’t allowed, so the family changed theirs instead and have lived in peaceful obscurity ever since. 

[courtesy of 'It's a Wonderful Word' by Albert Jack]

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